IPR versus Internet Freedom is a false debate


Picture of Frédéric Donck
Frédéric Donck

Picture of Konstantinos Komaitis
Konstantinos Komaitis

There’s been intense discussion about the nexus between intellectual property protection (IPR) and what’s referred to as “Internet freedom”. But the debate is framed in falsely dichotomous terms, creating a tension between IPRs and freedom. That isn’t helpful. Freedom means different things to different people and in the context of the Internet the term is loaded with conceptual ambiguity and political complexity.

It’s more constructive to identify ways to strike a balance between IPR and an open and interoperable Internet, which in any case promotes freedoms. Within an open Internet, innovation proliferates, creativity flourishes and freedoms are protected; an open Internet empowers societies and energises economies.

Technology has long challenged IPR: from the printing press to the VCR, to software and finally the Internet, technology has been the catalyst in re-affirming the philosophy and parameters of IPR. And the question has remained the same: does technology negatively impact intellectual property?

At first glance, it would appear so. But a closer look proves the opposite. IPRs have a consumer protection and public interest angle, two things that are very closely related to how the open standards community operates. Similarly, innovation and creativity – core principles of IPRs – constitute quintessential characteristics of the formation of Internet standards.

At a theoretical level, IPRs and the Internet are not as incompatible as one might think. We at the Internet Society suggest the following starting points for discussion:

  • IPRs and Internet Architecture: The critical issue of intellectual property rights infringement needs to be addressed, but in ways that do not undermine the global Internet architecture or curtail internationally recognised rights.
  • Innovation without permission: IPR policy should consider the Modern Paradigm for Standards Development, shaped by adherence to the following principles: cooperation; due process, consensus, transparency, balance and openness; collective empowerment; availability; and, voluntary adoption.
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